Same Time Next Year
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, and John Steed. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended
Timeline: Ninth in a series. Takes place in November, 1977, a few months after the conclusion of the series in the Canadian episodes. It is strongly recommended, but not essential, that you go back and read the previous stories in the arc: Lost Boys, Anew, Aftermath, Dance With Me, The Anniversary, Merry Christmas, Mr. Gambit, Brazil, Life on Mars, and 'Til Death.
For more information about the series, please see my profile.
It wound up taking longer than Purdey and Gambit expected to put their affairs in order at the Ministry. Not because their trip to the armoury proved particularly onerous or difficult, at least in terms of the actual tasks that they were required to complete. There was paperwork to be filled out, of course. There was always paperwork when it came to the Ministry, and Gambit mused ironically that it seemed as though they were required to fill out more forms to confirm that they wouldn't be working in the foreseeable future than they did when they actually were working. Purdey lost track of the different varieties, all of which had to be completed and filed in triplicate under the watchful eye of the clerks who doled said forms out. There was no question that the paperwork was daunting and somewhat demoralising, documenting as it did their exile in coldly officious black and white, with the odd splash of red that stuck out alarmingly from the rest of the word jumble, and making clear, in no uncertain terms, that by signing they were agreeing to not engage in anything remotely espionage-related unless and until their status and privileges had been returned. Somehow, Gambit found signing the forms more daunting than facing up to McKay, even though that encounter was more personal—because it was more personal. Even if one didn't agree with a person, or strenuously disagreed with him, there was at least someone to push back against, a face to read, some means of determining what was really going on behind the threats and the attacks. More often than not, there was something else at work, some little sliver of ill-concealed drive just visible in a person's eyes that hinted at an unspoken motivation, a hidden assumption, or a simple misapprehension of the facts. Even the rulebook wasn't as cut and dried as people made out. There was always room for creative "interpretation", for arguing that an action, while not strictly within the confines of what had been set out as sacred text, was still in the "spirit of the rules". Much of Purdey's argument to McKay had fallen into that category, and even if that argument hadn't been successful, she had at least been able to make it. There was no arguing with a form, no subtleties or nuances to tease out, no grey areas. Just black and white, yes or no, a formal, officious barrier that gave nothing away, just demanded that you choose from the options available, swear that they were completely accurate, never mind that any particular choice only half-fit your circumstances as you knew them, and then swept it all away to be filed as the gospel truth for all eternity.
And yet, in the end, it wasn't the forms that held Purdey and Gambit up, despite the fact that they proliferated seemingly every stop they made on their way out of the Ministry. It was the people, and not only the gawkers who clogged the corridors in an attempt to surreptitiously catch a glimpse of the pair in what some perceived to be their careers' death throes. Far more of their delay was caused by stopping to talk to people who braved the potential embarrassment inherent in violating their privacy at a difficult time to let them know that they supported them, that they were on their side no matter what everyone else said, though a considerable number of other people were saying the same thing. It was as surprising as it was heartening, and when the earlier laughter that they'd shared with Steed had faded under the sheer weight of the soulless mass of paperwork, Purdey and Gambit had left their place of employment, possibly for the last time, without the feeling of total and utter defeat that they'd expected. They were further cheered by the surprisingly-late lunch that Steed treated them to after the fact, during which they'd reminisced about all their assignments, capers, and outrageous stunts, and Gambit and Steed, in a stunning moment of unguardedness, had actually seen fit to let Purdey in on one or two particularly colourful stories about their time working together before Purdey had joined the mix, much to her delight and Gambit and Steed's rueful acknowledgement that they had just set themselves up for many, many future instances of blackmail.
As it was, Purdey and Gambit almost tumbled into the latter's flat in the late afternoon feeling exhausted, but strangely, deliriously content with their lot.
"You've been sacked often enough," Purdey began, the first to vocalise their strange melange of feelings. "Are you meant to feel quite so…relaxed about it?"
"Usually only after a long night at the pub with your mates," Gambit replied honestly, too strangely punch-drunk himself to register, let alone respond to, Purdey's sideways dig. "Definitely not when you're still sober."
"As sober as you ever are," Purdey countered, making her way, a little unsteadily, to the kitchen.
"I'm definitely more sober than I thought I'd ever be after lunch with Steed," Gambit confessed, passing a hand over his brow. "Shouldn't you know what it's like to be let go, anyway? You were thrown out of the Royal Ballet, after all."
"I wasn't sacked," Purdey differentiated patiently, taking a glass from Gambit's kitchen cabinet and filling it with water. "I was let go for being too tall, not because I did anything wrong. There is a difference."
"And you think I did something wrong," Gambit hypothesised wryly. "How do you know that I wasn't let go because of circumstances beyond my control, too?"
"Because I know you, Mike Gambit," Purdey said simply, turning around to meet him dancing eye for dancing eye. "And I suspect that, back then, with youthful male impetuousness and idiocy in full flight, you pulled even more damnfool stunts than you do now." She took a long, refreshing drink of water, as if that was the last word on the matter.
Gambit, far from being offended, instead emitted a bark of laughter. "All right, so maybe I have a bit more experience in being sacked—properly sacked," he admitted, sauntering over to lean against the kitchen counter on the other side of which Purdey was still coolly sipping her water. "But my experience tells me that we won't be feeling this punch-drunk, or sanguine, about what's happened when we get up tomorrow morning and reality sobers us up."
Purdey pursed her lips and regarded him sourly from over the rim of her glass. "Your negative thinking, Mike Gambit, is very unwelcome at the best of times. But today it rather smacks of hypocrisy, given that you were so intent on telling me to back down and live to fight another day in McKay's office."
"We'll fight," Gambit soothed. "But that's what it'll be—a fight. They're not going to decide in our favour on the strength of us having some very vocal friends, or even our service record. They're going to put us under a microscope. They're potentially rewriting departmental policy and protocol, and we're the test case. Whatever they decide to do goes beyond us, so we're going to have to fight our corner if we're not going to get swallowed up by bureaucracy." He paused for a moment, clearly debating whether or not to vocalise what he was going to say next. "And if they find out about recent developments, it'll make everything even more complicated."
Purdey's previously serene face contorted in distress. "Don't tell me you're having second thoughts?"
"About you?" Gambit shook his head vehemently, grinning broadly. "Never. I'd marry you tomorrow if I could. But I want you to be prepared for what's coming, and how ugly it could get, especially if they know what we're planning to do. Even if we do fight, there's no guarantee that it's a fight we'll win."
"I'm quite aware of the odds that we face," Purdey replied indignantly, scowling at him over her glass, but her annoyance was short-lived, dissolving in the. "Do you think we have a chance?"
"Of course we have a chance," Gambit assured robustly, rounding the counter to eliminate the barrier between them. "More than a chance, with you in the mix. Anyone who thinks they can out-debate or out-maneuver you has a nasty surprise coming."
"My argument today wasn't exactly a rousing success," Purdey replied bitterly, lips pressing together in self-recrimination as her fingernails tapped nervily against her water glass. "Do you think we ought to have told Steed?" she murmured uncertainly, eyes drifting to her ringless but suddenly significant ring finger where it was curled around the glass.
"Would that have helped?" Gambit asked flatly. "It'd just be another secret for him to carry around, and he's done enough of that for us lately."
"I suppose." Purdey bit her lip. "It'd just start all over again, then, wouldn't it?" A light dawned in her eyes as she registered what she'd just said. "All over again," she repeated. Without warning, she seized Gambit's arm with such force that the water in her glass sloshed violently, slopping over the rim and onto her fingers, but she paid it no heed. "Mike, did you mean it when you said you'd marry me tomorrow?"
"Yes," Gambit replied, and it was his turn to sound uncertain, as well as a little alarmed, as Purdey's nails dug painfully into his skin. "But it's not a matter of wanting to. There are some things that we'd need to do first…"
"Yes, but we could get started now." Purdey's eyes were shining, and Gambit could feel that she was palpably vibrating with excitement. "It wouldn't take that long to arrange. We're suspended. We have more time than we've ever had." She squeezed his forearm a little harder in her enthusiasm, and Gambit tried not to wince as he imagined the bruises her fingers would leave behind on his still somewhat-tender, battered body. "We could be married in no time at all."
"We could," Gambit allowed, covering her hand with his and gently prising her fingers loose before the pins and needles in his own arm got any worse. "But I don't think it'd do much for our case at committee."
"I don't give a damn about the committee!" Purdey said fiercely, slamming down her water glass with feeling. "What more can they do? They've already suspended us."
"Suspended," Gambit echoed, holding up a warning index finger. "We haven't actually lost our jobs yet. There's a chance we'll be allowed back. But if we run off and get married, now, first thing after having the book thrown at us, it'll make that chance that much smaller."
"And if we don't get married now, when?" Purdey wanted to know, gaze locked with his. "If we choose the safe option to stay in their good graces, and we do get reinstated, what then? We're never going to feel as though we can do it without putting what we've managed to claw back at risk. But if we're going to be damned no matter what we do, we may as well do what we want. And I don't want to wait to marry you."
"I don't either," Gambit soothed, laying a hand aside her face. "But you were pretty upset about being suspended in McKay's office. I don't want you to do something you'll regret."
"Mike Gambit," Purdey tsked in exasperation, as though he were a particularly thick child. "I may be outraged at how we've been treated for making the choices we made, but that doesn't mean that I regret the choices themselves." She leaned in intently, eyes boring into his very soul, willing him to believe her. "Can't you get it through your thick skull that I chose you over the job to help you fight Vanessa and I'm choosing you now?" She seemed to realise that her intensity might be rather overwhelming, because she flashed him one of her big, bright, brilliant smiles. "I will always choose you, Mike Gambit. Now and forever."
Gambit had to work hard to swallow the lump in his throat that seemed to have formed of its own accord, a task made more difficult by the tears he also found himself desperately trying to hold back, lest he choke and drown himself simultaneously. "I should have used that line when I proposed," he croaked, when he was capable of forming words.
Purdey laughed in delight. "You can't keep all the best lines for yourself," she teased, standing on tiptoe to kiss his brow, crinkled endearingly with emotion. "Anyway, I'm not asking for quotability, just an answer."
"Skip town to elope," Gambit mused, composing himself and making a moue as he turned the thought around in his mind.
Purdey watched him with hawklike vigilance, searching for any flicker that might tell her what he was thinking, what his answer might be. "Well?" she pressed, after Gambit made a show of considering the issue, purposefully keeping Purdey in suspense.
"It's definitely unconventional…" Gambit began, still looking heavenward in thought, as though busy divining the mysteries of the universe.
"A fact that my mother will remind us of the moment she hears about it," Purdey interjected, twitching irritably. "It's not what's done, especially when one has a bishop for a step-father, not that I care a jot."
"But it is exactly the kind of thing we would do," Gambit countered, eyes dropping to meet hers as a slow, secretive smile crossed his features. "Our relationship's always been unconventional, right from the start."
Purdey was almost hopping, she was jittering so much, but her eyes were brighter than they'd ever been, which was saying something given the way they'd been illuminated since the conversation had begun. "Does that mean you'll do it?"
Gambit took one of Purdey's hands in both of his, squeezed it warmly. "Purdey, nothing would make me happier than to unconventionally vow to be unconventional with you for the rest of my life."
"Mike Gambit, you brilliant man!" Purdey leapt up and threw her arms around his neck, feet lifting off the floor as Gambit wrapped his own arms around her for the kiss that followed. For once, Purdey was so overjoyed that she didn't remember to worry about how holding her might affect his side, too busy enjoying the warmth of his embrace and his kiss, two joys that she had yet to find a way to surpass in any other part of her life. "You'll do it, then?" she gasped when she came up for air, intent on making sure that this wasn't a dream, feet still floating above the floor, both figuratively and literally.
"This is dangerously close to being as confusing my proposal," Gambit chuckled, adjusting his grip to keep Purdey in his arms. He wasn't up to full strength yet, but he was damned if he wasn't going to hold her for as long as he could in that moment. "So to save you from asking again, yes, Purdey, I want to elope."
"Mike!" She was so delighted she had to kiss him again.
"Come on, then," Gambit urged, somewhat muffled, still kissing Purdey even as he set her down as his side began to protest, telling him that he'd pushed his luck as far as he could. "We've got a lot to do." He treated her elatedly grinning visage to a saucy wink. "Partner."
Author's note: Serendipity rather than planning has led me to finish posting this fic almost exactly two years after I started. This is the longest story I've ever written, encompassing a lot of rewriting, editing, and several different versions, all of which ended up in the final story in some form or another. Years ago, when I planned out the series of stories that eventually became the "Arc", this was the final entry in the series. In the course of editing and posting this story, however, I came up with the ideas for a couple of other stories to come after this one and worked out where to take the characters next. That led me to change some of the events in this story, including the ending. Rest assured I don't plan to leave Purdey and Gambit on this cliffhanger of sorts, but I also don't know when the next story will be finished. Hopefully I'll post some other things in the interim.
I hope you've enjoyed this fic, and thank you for sticking with it for the past two(!) years.
The New Avengers will return.